Four years ago Eric and I climbed the NE Ridge of Black Peak. We had just started leading a few months prior and had about one year of climbing experience and little to no knowledge on simual-climbing. This taking on this route was probably not our best decision. We pitched out most of it which resulted in an extremely long day (over 20 pitches) and  lack of experience made us most slowly on top of that. We topped out on what I know know was the false summit just as the light was fading from the sky and began to pick our way down  the South Ridge via headlamp… eventually we ended up deciding to spend a very uncomfortable night in a 3x2x4 foot slot/cave formation. I’m sure now I would have had no problem descending the scramble route in the dark, but back then lack of experience resulted in my first unplanned bivy.

Four years have passed since then. I am a much more seasoned climber now and it was time to take on the NE Ridge again; this time doing it right and Damien had yet to climb the peak. With sun promised all weekend we departed the Maple Pass TH Saturday morning reveling at the novelty of walking on patches of melted out trail and wearing our summer mountaineering boots for the first time this year. The trail is mostly melted out until the first basin. Then it is mostly snow with small patches of dirt all the way to Maple Pass, then there is no more dirt. Crossing to the other side of Maple Pass and traversing the steep slope to Lewis Lake is tricky business. The run out id very consequential and an ice axe and possibly crampons (depending on snow softness) is a good idea. About 300 feet of elevation is lost traversing to Lewis Lake. From Lewis Lake we began to climb again following the tracks of Nick and Jonah. As it turned out on of the climbers we shared our wedding cake with, Nick, once again had the same objective! He and his partner were doing the NE Ridge in a day and were ahead of us leaving a nice bootpack through the rolling slopes to Wing Lake at 6900 feet. It’s a decently long trek, but the views were pretty amazing providing a good distraction.

We sent up camp on the shore of frozen Wing Lake. We saw two figured on the summit of Black Peak and thought they were Nick and Jonah. It turned out to be two skiers. Through my camera viewfinder I zoomed in and was surprisingly able to locate Nick and Jonah about 2/3 of the way up the NE Ridge. We watched them trucking a long for a bit before taking a nap.

Clouds began to move in that evening as we ate diner on a melted rock. We watched the summit for Nick and Jonah, but saw nothing. Chances were they were on their way down we figured. We scurried back into the tent as the temps dropped. Probably an our passed before we heard voices and peaked out of the tent to see two figures plunge stepping down the snow slopes from the South Ridge. We were relived they had made it down the mountain, especially since some unpredicted bad weather seemed to be moving and and even a few small snowflakes fell randomly from the sky. The summit of Black Peak was partly obscured by a cloud. We met up with Nick and Jonah swapping beta, stories and gear info. They had quite a long day on the NE Ridge which turned out to be more demanding than they had expected. But like us, they enjoy type 2 fun and a good adventure! Nick’s detailed account of the NE Ridge can be found on his eloquently written blog SPOKALPINE. Damien and I huddled back into the tent as Nick and Jonah began their journey back to the car.

The clouds that we figured were just passing through did not pass through… they lingered. They lingers and dropped rain. About an inch of rain fell overnight and it was still pitter pattering against the tent walls when we woke up at 2:45am to get ready to climb. We thought maybe it would pass as it was supposed to be a partly sunny day. So we waited 30 minutes… then another 30 minutes… we kept hoping it would stop. But it drizzled or rained moderately continuously and to top that off there was heavy mist providing only ten feet of visibility. There was one longish stint of no rain and we began to get ready. We figured if the rock was damp it would be fine as we’d climbed in light rain. Plus, if the weather kept improving and became partly sunny like it was supposed to the hardest parts of the route would be dry when we got to it… but then the rain fell again. We discussed going anyway and climbing through the rain at length, but in the end we decided it was too risky a move on an extremely long route with  no bail out option. At 7:30 we began to climb the steep snow slopes to the South Ridge, the 3rd and 4th class scramble route.

The route climbed the snow slopes left of Black Peak for about 1100 feet. There is varying steepness. We wore helmet and used ice axes for the last 150ish feet. Although the snow was pretty soft from the rain we still wore crampons approaching the ridge for extra security. Once we crested the ridge were blasted by a frigid wind and pelted with tiny droplets of freezing rain. Visibility had improved, but a heavy fog still hung thick in the air as we ascended the climbers trail uo the melted out lower section of the South Ridge. The trail was easy to follow, mostly class 2 and marked by carins. We passed over a few snow patches, but did not hit a major snow slope until about 8,500 feet just below the first gully. We used an ice axe and front pointed up the steep slope (probably 50 degrees) aiming for the Pillar guarding the right side of the gully. At the pillar we climbed into the shallow moat and once again followed dry rock up the gully until things opened up again. Then we took a very short 8 foot gully with 3rd class steps up to the top of the ridge. There are several “blocks” at the top of the ridge. We followed carins around the right side of the towers looking for the summit block. We found the summit block pretty easily, but finding the way up the rock was difficult. We had a few false starts before finally located a carin that guided us up a short snow slope. Then we circled nearly tot he back the summit block and finally located a hidden gully with 3rd and 4th class moves to the summit. There were no views of course, but that didn’t matter. Even in the srummy weather we had manged to make the best of things and still climb the peak even if it wasn’t the way we originally planned. The the rain and mist make the scramble route much more challenging and interesting.

We descended the route somehow taking a slightly different variation on the ridge down, but with no issues. The clouds never lifted and the rain never stopped as we packed up and began the long walk out. We made the right call.

 

After both of our volcano objectives got foiled due to inclement weather… the possibility of going out again to try Argonaut via the NE Couloir camp into play. To recap, in our first attempt (performed as a carryover) we climbed successfully to the top of the couloir, but were forced to retreat when a blast of unforecasted snow, wind and cold set in providing us with a nice dose of hypothermia. This attempt resulted in an unplanned bivy. The next attempt was foiled before we reached the couloir at 6600 feet due top extremely high wind and avalanche danger. We ended up deciding to try again. Eightmile Road was now open which took 8 miles off of the total trip and the couloir seemed to be in good shape as seem some recent pictures of it from nearby peaks. So off we went again to Leavenworth… and once again we began walking up the Stuart Lake Trail. At least this time the trail was snow free so it looked different.

We made fast progress at first. However, about .25 miles after Stuart Meadows we had to break away from the nice, clean, maintained track and duck into the3 dense forest. The rlute requires the traveler to cross the two branches of Mountaineers Creek and then follow the creek more or less to the base of Argonaut. Previously this has been a snow covered venture, and though we had to deal with some low hanging branches and logs, traveling cross cuntry was fairly easy. Without everything melted or with snow patches only a few inches deep, the tangled nature of the forest was completely revealed. We navigated over and under copious dead-fall, battled through dense shrubs and broke free of branches that tried to grab our packs. Luckily, crossing the roaring creeks was easy as we found descent logs. However, both required crawling as there were slippery. We finally made it to the lower slopes of Argonaut. Damien and I wanted to camp at about 5500 feet. Of course we couldn’t see if there was enough snow that high to build platform so we began to climb in the same area we had always began climbing up the mountain…

Terrain during times of snow and times of melt are extremely different. What was once a nice open snow slope with a few branches sticking out was now a thicket of slide alder from hell. We fought through the entwined, tangled mess of branches. There is no more heinous experience in the backcountry then going to war with alder. It stabs, slaps, grabs and punches you as you go. It also causes me to release a string of profanities and also irrational demands like “LET GO OF ME!”

We ended up accepting defeat. Damien seemed to recall that there was a talus slope further right so we battled ur way downward and right causing me to cuss some more until we finally found ourselves in a boulder field. At last we had a view of the mountain. There were plenty of snow fingers and patches for us to follow up the next morning, but none of the snow patches looked deep enough to create a platform at a higher elevation. We also took note of the bergschrund which was much more open than in early season. Normally we had bypassed it on the steep slopes on the left of it, but the slope had melted out to reveal steep slabs and waterfalls. Luckily, there seemed to be a snow bridge across and also a snow finger on the slabs, so we had options.As for camp, we decided that our best option was to set up our tent in the boulder field on a massive flat rock which had the added benefit of having a stream sunning beneath it. It took us 4 hours of bushwhacking to get to camp and travel 1.75 miles.

We began our upward progress at 3am the next morning. We aimed to stay on the snow as much as possible, but we had to travel a but on talus as well in-between. Almost immediately we had to put on crampons. The snow was solid. This was bit concerning. We knew the couloir t be relentlessly steep and with snow this firm it would be an insane calf burner. Still we pressed on into the morning alpine glow of sunrise until reaching the slabs near the bergschrund. Here we came to an impasse. The snow finger on the slabs to the right of the massive crack was really just a thin layer of snow and running under it was a small cascade. What appeared to be a bridge from a distance was actually an illusion. There was simply a “bump” in the snow that blocked the view of park of the bergschrund. We would not access the upper basin and thus we could no get to the couloir. Once again we were shut down, this time at 6300 feet.

Once again defeated by the mountain we returned to camp and took a long nap in preparation for our impending bushwhack battle with the forest. It took us 4 hours of acrobatics to fight our way back through the forest back to the trail which was a most welcome and beautiful sight after getting smashed smacked in the face with branches one to many times.

Once again Jimmy Chin was right “The best Alpinists are the ones with the worst memories” …. and thus I’m sure that is will not be my last trip report on this route.

 

 

09. June 2017 · Enter your password to view comments. · Categories: Trip Reports · Tags: , ,

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